The "F" Word In the Church

by Jennifer Taylor

Ah…. the F word…“feminism” (*cue the burning of the bras*). It’s a word that causes raised eyebrows and controversy within the Christian community.  It’s an ideology that has been misinterpreted as a sheer hatred of men and the active dismantling of nuclear families. However, the truth is that feminism is much more aligned with God’s perspective of equality between men and women.  

God is the ultimate equal opportunist. He created both man and woman with equal rights and privileges that transcend any race, gender, economic status, and physical abilities (Gen 1:27-28). Jesus, the visible representation of God, was the ultimate advocate for people from all walks of life; even communing with those who society judged as deviant. When looking at the life of Jesus, we see women saturated in his narrative. Women financially supported him and his disciples (Luke 8:3). Jesus reinterpreted laws to equally protect women socially and economically (Mt. 5:27-32). The first witnesses of His resurrection were women (Jn. 20:11-18). Women were considered second-class citizens during this time making Jesus’ interactions with women revolutionary and radical.

As people who proclaim to follow Jesus, is not our duty to embody Jesus in this present world? We are called to be the “image bearers and justice seekers” just like Jesus.

It is not a myth or an “alternative fact” that women around the world are mistreated in higher numbers  than men. Feminism raises critical questions about gender roles and representations, gender socialization, and systemic gender inequality. Movements like #MeToo, #TimesUp, #NeverthelessShePersisted, and of course the Women’s March signified a universal battle cry serving as a catalyst for what was dubbed as “The Year of the Woman.”  The presidential election of Donald Trump ignited a ferocious fire as women vowed that they would not stand on the sidelines as those in power continue to perpetuate sexism.

This is a pivotal moment in history, forcing everyone to take a hard look as a country and as a Christian community at our own biases and beliefs about gender equality.   

Here are some “fun” facts illuminating the extent of gender inequality in the United States of America: 

  1. Women make up 1/5 of Congress.

  2. 32 Fortune 500 CEOS are women.

  3. Women on average earn 79 cents for every dollar that a man makes. Specifically, Asian women make 85 cents to the dollar, white women make about 75 cents, black women make 63 cents, and Latina women earn only 54 cents for every dollar a white man makes.

  4.  U.S. Census Bureau found that the national poverty rate for women is more than 20% compared to 11.9% of men. Among households headed by single women, it is more than 30%.

  5. In 2016, the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs determined that women pay more for their version of a product, 42 percent of the time.

  6. Almost 1 in 3 women are murdered by their intimate partner; 7.10 million women a year are victims of intimate partner violence; 80% of the approximate 800,000 people that are trafficked each year are women; in North America, 1 in 4 women will be sexually assaulted within their lifetime; in the U.S., of the women surveyed 65% have experienced street harassment, and 23% have experienced sexual harassment. (Source: CNN)

Interestingly, gender inequality is evident within the church walls where patriarchy seeped itself into its culture and doctrine:

  1. Approximately 10% of congregations have a woman in a senior or solo leadership role. (Christian Today)

  2. The pay gap between genders still exists in churches with men earning approximately 27% more than women in wages and benefits. This is despite the fact that approximately three-fourths of female pastors have their seminary degrees, as compared to 63% of their male counterparts. (Christianity Today)

  3. About three-quarters of pastors (74%) estimate that less than 20 percent of their congregation has experienced domestic violence, according to a 2014 LifeWay Research survey for Sojourners and IMA World Health. (Christianity Today)

  4. 65 percent of pastors had spoken one or fewer times about domestic and sexual violence, with 22 percent indicating they addressed it annually, while 33 percent mentioned it "rarely." Ten percent of pastors said they had never taught on it. (Christianity Today)

The data demonstrates the lack of equal treatment towards women within congregations. So with that truth, it is only natural that we seek to eradicate gender-based oppression by living out the standard within our own Jesus-following community.

Although there is an increase of women in leadership including pastoring at church, a “glass ceiling” exists within the hierarchy. Most church leaders eagerly support the calling of a woman in their congregation if it aligns with traditional feminine roles: a wife, a mother, a women’s ministry leader, a worship leader, a children’s ministry leader, and maybe even a prayer ministry leader. However, when it comes to elevating women in more traditional “masculine” roles such as a pastor, there is more resistance.

The reality is that most women are  groomed to be wives and mothers than to be leaders with unique gifts of their own. Although there is nothing wrong with developing and preparing women who want to be married and/or bear children, the longstanding tradition of the Christian community is to place emphasis on the role of women within the home rather than also placing the same emphasis on cultivating leadership qualities to serve their surrounding communities. Somehow the implicit goal for a Christian woman is marriage; you are considered strange if you do not conform to this.

The Church should embrace a feminist perspective and embed it in their approach to ministry because it will better equip members when addressing women’s issues. Representation is everything! Not only for those outside of the church walls, but for those within it. Women in the church need to know that they are gifted, treasured, and vital to God’s work in this world. Being a feminist within the context of Christianity simply means we encourage, nurture, and celebrate the call God has on her life.  Whether it is being a wife, a mother, a friend, a sister, a daughter, a ministry leader, a pastor, an author, etc., we acknowledge that she has just as much right to pursue that calling than a man does. Think about Ruth (Book of Ruth), Queen Esther (Book of Esther), Rahab (Joshua 2), Priscilla (Acts 18:24-26; Romans 16:3), Phoebe (Romans 16:1-2), or other key women in Paul’s ministry. All exemplify that women, just like men, are vehicles of the miraculous when God is the driver.

“Equality is only a threat for those afraid to lose their power.”-- (Christianity Today)

It is really difficult to ignore or explain away the statistics demonstrating clear disparities between males and females. When a group is oppressed, it inherently elevates another. Within this context, the continued oppression of women maintains power dynamics in favor of men. Yes, not all men speak out against feminism and the movement towards women’s rights; however, even silence is complacency. As a woman and a Christian, it moves me to go against the grain and fight against injustice.

When we know better, the hope is that we DO better. Here are some ways to fight against sexism in the church and in our nation:

  1. Self-awareness: I am a firm believer in checking in with yourself and God about the why behind your belief systems such as “Why does it make me uncomfortable to see a woman preach?” There is power in being open and willing to explore the roots of our own biases and beliefs around gender representation and roles.

  2. For the men, recognize your privilege and use it as a platform to elevate women’s rights.

  3. Representation in the church leadership: support women to take the pulpit and preach, encourage them to lead ministries they are passionate about, include women to be partners in the development of the church and its mission.

  4. Incorporate gender inclusive leadership development within the culture of the church.

  5. Become an ally in advocating for women’s rights outside of church: gender pay gap, gender-based violence, and underrepresentation of decision-makers are some of the many examples of essential advocacy.

  6. VOTE! We hear it all the time how voting can be a powerful tool to effect change. Yes the voting system isn’t perfect, but that doesn’t mean it cannot be used to push society towards the right direction. Politicians come into office with their own passions, their own belief systems, their own missions and agendas. Why not try to vote someone in that actually cares about women’s rights?

In God’s eyes all forms of oppression are wrong. Patriarchy is not God’s heart for this world. It is now up to us to step up to the plate as agents of change and demonstrate to the rest of the world what gender equality could look like.

'There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.' (Galatians 3:28)